Day 1: Started at the Elkhart Pass trailhead at 7:30AM and took the pole creek trail 119 to Titcomb basin via photographer’s point, Hobb’s lake, Lake Seneca, Little Seneca and Island Lake. Set up camp between the upper and lower Titcomb lakes – 16 miles, 3610’ elevation gained and 2009’ lost, 7h30mto camp with a 40min break at Island lake.
Day 2: Left camp between the Titcomb lakes at 4:35AM and hiked up Bonney pass, over to Dinwoody glacier and around the moat and followed the standard Gooseneck glacier route to summit and back 11 miles, 5581’ ascended and 2400’ lost, 14.5 hours RT.
Day 3: Left camp at 3:40AM and reversed the day 1 route – 16 miles, 2009’ elevation gained and 3610’ lost, 7h15m to the car.
Crew: Brian, Colin, and Prakash.
Elevation Gained / Lost: Per Brian’s GPS, total 43 miles, 11,200’ elevation gained and 8019’ lost
Prologue / Logistics:
I tried to find a crew to death march up Gannett in 2013 ago but my partner ended up bailing out at the last minute after we were all packed to go. Unfortunately responsibilities can come in the way of climbing goals. I did want to check a bigg-ish overnighter off the list before Divya and I started the baby business (which is hopefully soon) so when a couple free weekends showed up in the horizon with Divya away from home I started e-mailing potential partners, all in their early to mid-30s like me, with lots of responsibilities. I wasn’t super hopeful but Colin and Brian were gracious enough to tag along. I was hugely appreciative that Colin slogged away at work through the weekend prior and gave up valuable coin with his wife to be able to take the Friday off that we needed. Brian came right out of an epic on the Kautz and a tough day on Keiners but signed up for a third death march. The trip itself was about as nutty as a squirrel turd… it’s a 43 mile slog, 31 of which we’d be carrying a 40-45lb pack for, and a 7 hour drive each way. Icing on the cake was that I only had a maximum of three days for the trip to offer Colin and Brian because of a big work milestone coming up the Tuesday after the weekend. I was also heading away on a three week vacation following that deadline so had really been slogging away at work for the past couple months to make this trip happen. I didn’t have much compromise on the itinerary to offer the guys for these reasons so was super grateful that they were flexible about it. The beautiful part of this all was that the weather was going to be amazing bluebird all weekend and the Dinwoody glacier and Gooseneck Bergschrund I had heard from Greg Miller (a climbing partner from the past who’d been there over the 4th, thank you so much for the beta, man) was fairly well covered and would allow for a light, fast ascent similar to what Carl and co. (14ers.com) had completed a few years ago and their trip report helped a ton as well.
The Saturday prior I took my Hybrid, ‘Old Blue’ up Mt. Evans from Idaho Springs which is my usual fitness test piece. I was 20% slower than my best time biking up there but made it… that was a decent confidence boost. Colin committed to the trip on Tuesday morning and Brian a couple hours later and all of a sudden things got real. I put in for Friday off which was tough at work but I would be able to manage the extra work hours on evenings to compensate with Divya being away. We began talking gear and developing the plan. Brian and I would each bring our 8mm, 30m beal glacier ropes and a picket each in case we needed to protect the schrund on the Gooseneck or wanted to rope up on the Dinwoody. We’d also each bring a stove and fuel. Colin signed up to bring his 3 person Alps Mountaineering Aries 3 person tent, water filter, beers as expected, and rented a canister of bear spray after we heard word of an angry grizzly sow and cubs farting around the trailhead area. Colin and Brian each brought alpine axes (Colin also brought 2 trekking poles)and I brought one trekking pole, a whippet and an alpine axe… the pole and whippet for approach days and the whippet and axe for the climbing day was a strategy that worked perfectly for this route. We brought tons of bug spray and each got mosquito face nets although we managed to avoid too much trouble with them for most of the trip… possibly because we moved too quickly through their prime feeding grounds lower down or because it was pretty windy and had gotten down to freezing above the upper lakes. We decided to leave screws behind because we weren’t expecting snow / ice conditions in which screws might be of any use at all. We did each bring a few of the minimum prussiks, slings and lockers we’d need for glacier travel and rescue. The item most debatedwas what boots we’d bring. While I’d decided on my mountain boots for the entire trip as did Colin, Brian was going to use trailrunners for the approach and carry his mountain boots. He coaxed me to consider my running shoes for the approach as well which turned out to be a bad move for my high arches. I’ve gotten soft lately. I’d probably have done this approach in my VFFs a couple years ago.
The Approach / Day 1:
Colin drove out to the trailhead Thursday morning. Brian and I drove out together from my place after I was done with work on Thursday, listening to climbing podcasts and solving world problems discussing Old Greg. While Colin spent a solid Thursday night sleeping well like a poor man with nothing to lose at a Pinedale parking lot, Brian and I got to the Elkhart Park trailhead at 1AM and packed into the back of Divya’s FJ like sardines for about 5 hours before my alarm screamed bloody murder. Colin showed up soon and we moved gear around so packs were equally heavy at about 40-45lbs. We began hiking at 7:30AM, and with Colin setting a blistering pace out the gates we knocked out the 4.5 miles to Photographer’s point by 9:10AM.
We arrived roughly at the same time as a group with horses that had started out with us from Elkhart Park. Apparently it costs a $120 for a horse to Island Lake. It takes a little over 4 hours to get there and seemed like it would take a couple horses per person.
An hour later we arrived at Hobbs Lake and then shortly afterwards at a large creek crossing. We were surprised at how much water this area held compared to Colorado and how green everything was, not to mention the savage mossies at every break.
At 11:15 we arrived at mile 8.5, to combat the Lake Seneca mossie battalion…
We stopped for a break and some bars shortly past Lake Seneca at the turnoff for Lost Lake and studied the map a bit. This undulating terrain with lakes and creeks had us intrigued.
We passed Little Seneca shortly after Lake Seneca. Anywhere above Lake Seneca on this trail the views open up beautifully and make for an extremely scenic hike that tend to get you to forget that your legs at this point are in fact ready to cut their losses and leave your ass for good.
At 11.7 miles Island Lake blew our minds. We arrived there shortly after the group with horses, at about 12:30PM. The lake is punctuated by a little green atoll or two and surrounded by little beautiful private white-sand beaches. We chilled there for a good 40 minutes… I soaked my weary arches in the cold glacial melt and that helped a great deal. I traded my running shoes at that point for my mountain boots and wouldn’t change back for the remainder of the trip.
We read maps a little more, ate some more trail bars and began mozying along up the trail again and passed one more little lake…
We arrived at a junction where the trail split off for Indian Pass which I believe is used to access Fremont Peak. I talked with a family with two young kids that had packed all the way back in there. It’s my biggest dream to do regular trips like that with Divya and our own kid(s) someday. I like to do a difficult trips now and again so that someday when the family is ready I am myself mentally ready to take them. I feel that if I can survive a 3-day beat down today I will be able to at least give my family / kids a great day-trip in the mountains some day. Divya and I never had the opportunity for cool hobbies or anything outdoors where we grew up because regular day-to-day life in India was hard enough but I’d like for our kids to have it better in that respect. At 2:40PM we arrived at a crest before finally walking down into Titcomb basin and took another short break before the final push into camp between the lakes…
Camp: Day 1:
We arrived at camp a short while later and set up Colin’s tent. Colin and I dived in the lake for a bit of an alpine shower to cool off and soothe the inflammation from a rough approach to prep for summit day. We then set about boiling water for food, filtering water for the next morning and for the climb, and preparing our summit gear and packs. Titcomb basin is the perfect place to camp for a 3-day attempt. With a reasonably light pack it’s possible to make it there early, eat and make for a summit day of reasonable mileage. It’s also a little lighter on mossies than lower down especially on a windy day.
There are also sites there that get sun until about 7PM so it’s possible to take a swim, soak in the sun to dry, eat dinner and get in the sleeping bag with time for a good night’s sleep before a summit bid, all of which I think enhanced our chances. For dinner I had some red bean 100% buffalo chili and a dehydrated backpacker’s pantry meal for two of spicy Louisiana red beans and rice. Both were awesome. The buffalo chili is not dehydrated so a bit on the heavier side but it was my big splurge on this trip.
I’d also brought some coca tea I’d picked up in Peru which hit the spot. I also drank a liter of water and we went to bed with the alarm set for 3AM.
The Climb / Day 2:
In the morning we woke up quickly and while Colin refilled water, Brian and I cooked some breakfast (ramen, oatmeal, etc.) and I also made a bit of coca tea again. We were on the trail shortly after 4:30AM and in a couple hours were putting crampons on for the rest of the way up Bonney pass which was luckily covered in snow. At 7:30AM on day 2 we got our first look of our objective in 2 days…
Colin and I took off crampons and scree skied down to Dinwoody while Brian plunge stepped snow. On the Dinwoody I glissaded the top part and lost my larger water bottle with about 75% of my day’s gatorade (2L). I didn’t notice that until a few minutes later but Brian offered me some of his if needed since he had 3L and we continued going. Brian and Colin punched in to their shins a couple times so we roped up. Overall the crevasse coverage looked great and the snow at that time of the day was hard and crisp and made for easy travel to the moat below one of the prominent ridges coming off the massif.
We took off crampons at the base of the Gooseneck ridge and walked up and around the talus and scree loaded ridge. At this point Colin unfortunately felt dizzy and dehydrated and returned to camp with a couple other climbers who were returning because they weren’t feeling it and hadn’t brought a rope. Since Colin had our second rope he took it down with the other two climbers in case they wanted to rope up together for Dinwoody. At this point we also saw another couple entering the Dinwoody glacier that we’d passed earlier on the way up to Bonney pass.
Shortly afterwards, Brian and I approached a gully of snow and took it to get to the ridge crest more easily…
Back on the ridge crest we scrambled a bit more making a beeline for Gooseneck Pinnacle. Soon we were on a highly runneled, snowslope above the Gooseneck glacier that led to the base of the bergschrund.From where we were, we saw a steep snow route that left us higher on the summit ridge than I think what’s considered the ‘standard route’. Brian’s ½ shank trail runners and dull crampons gave him traction issues and he wasn’t keen on continuing if that was the only route option. We went a bit further up the snow slope before we saw the ‘standard route’ with a passable snow bridge on the bergschrund. The snow was a tad mushy though and we roped up and simul-climbed it. I led hastily past three snow bridges and up the 40° snow slope before we were in the clear and scramblingon the summit ridge off-rope shortly afterward.
A look at our route across the bergschrund from a short way below the summit taken later on that day…
There was a bit of interesting 3rd class scrambling interspersed with snow traverses on the summit ridge but mostly talus hopping on 2+ terrain.
An un-arrested slide down any of these snowfields would lead over the summit cliff. The snow wasn’t the best quality for an easy arrest but there was plenty of easy ground close to where snow met rock near the ridge crest. None of the climbing on the ridge was particularly difficult.
I was on the summit at 12:15PM…
And Brian followed shortly afterwards, ecstatic to top out after a rough couple days…
We signed the summit register…
…and spent a decent amount of time on the summit taking in the scenery and curiously looking at the weather. The thunderheads didn’t seem to build as quickly and massively as they did in Colorado. Either the high pressure system in the area was knocking them away or WY weather is subtly different in a way that I don’t understand.
The Tetons looked tiny in the distance… the grand is the only other peak I’ve climbed in Wyoming. I think on the next trip up there I’d like to visit the cirque of the towers and perhaps climb Wolf’s Head and / or Pingora.
We didn’t want to waste too much time on summit since we wanted to get below the bergschrund before the snow got much softer. We hustleddown our ascent route as fast as possible and were back to the top of the bergschrund a little after 1PM.
I protected the bergschrund again for the descent and let Bryan head down first on an ice axe belay. We got through the section very quickly and were soon back down to the relative safety of the scree and snow slopes below the gooseneck pinnacle that would take us back to Dinwoody.
We roped up for Dinwoody again and I headed up ahead. The lack of Gatorade was catching up to me and the glacier crossing was rough. I spotted my water bottle languishing on a safe spot of the glacier though when we were almost all the way across. Iunroped, ran over and grabbed it before the hike up to Bonney pass. We noticed at this time that Colin had also left me a bottle of his water for the re-ascent to the Bonney pass summit which was awesome of him but I was glad to have my electrolytes and Nalgene back.
There was nothing spectacular about the ascent back up to Bonney pass, just a steep grunt back to the top. The descent down the other side was also a mindless plunge-step.
During the descent we saw a third group that day that had unfortunately had to turn around without the fortune of a summit. Brian tried to down-climb a patch of scree / talus exposed up by the pass summit but that turned out to be more work than reward.
We finally made it down to the base of the snowfield at about 6PM from where there’s a good view of Titcomb basin and the strip of land between the lakes where our campsite was.
Back to Camp and Packing Out on Day 3:
An hour later we rolled into camp to round off the day at about 14.5 hours. There was a literal gale at the campsite which blew all the mosquitoes away. Colin mentioned that the tent was in rough shape when he’d gotten back to camp 5 hours earlier. It was a good thing we’d set up guy wires for extra anchoring. While we lazily changed and got ready for bed Colin proposed the idea of waking up at 2:30AM the following day for the pack out. There wasn’t much resistance from me since I did want to be in good shape at work before leaving on vacation. Brian agreed although we were both fairly sore. I had a meal of Himalayan lentils and rice and another packet of bison chili and Brian had some chicken vindaloo before we hit the sack. Brian’s snoring drove Colin out of the tent that night but at 2:30 we were up and by 3:45AM we had broken down camp, packed up and began hiking out.
The descent felt like the hardest day of the 3 but at least it was nice to hike down through that scenic trail without the pressure of a climb ahead of us. Island Lake again…
On the way up, photographer’s point tells you that your summit is depressingly faraway…
We were back at the trailhead at about 11AM. It had taken us about the same time to get out as it had to get to camp. All grunt no glamor on day 3… just hard work, but we were out with plenty of daylight in which to make the 7h drive back home. Brian and I stopped by a Mexican restaurant at Pinedale to replenish while Colin headed straight back home.